Set Them Loose!

Teaching History in the Digital Age, by T. Mills Kelly, engages how teaching and learning have been changed by digital media. The internet itself has changed rapidly from 2000 to 2014 as more content becomes produced by viewers of a medium, which has initiated a new outlet for creativity. Mills argues that it is to a student’s benefit to open them to digital content creation, and that it commonly produces surprising results.

One of the most debated aspects of teaching history has been content knowledge. Namely: what events are important enough for students to learn? The view of teaching history as a factual body of information is the prevailing approach. Basically, historians choose which facts are important, the students learn the facts, and then we can draw conclusions about what can come in the present. However, memorization is not enough to draw conclusions. Students must learn to “think historically”. This line of thinking requires scrutiny of a source (whether it’s secondary or primary, who created the source, etc.), the ability to create original thoughts based off of evidence, and the ability to triangulate sources.

In the digital age, historical sources are widely abundant. Students often draw from sources unknown to teachers, and teachers are no longer forced to make students draw from a shallow pool of information they assign. With the help of a search engine, students can find ten sources in the time it might take to find one by traditional analog procedures. The question then arises: with so many sources, how do you connect them? With the addition of data-mining software help link names, locations, and dates together in a way that could never have been done before. This triangulation took much effort in the analog age and is creating new discussions about history that were not previously postulated.

In this modern era, the writing style of historians has shifted from narrative to analytical. Historians still enjoy a good “story”, however, students and historians of the digital age are expected to analyze and extrapolate information into much more grand historical context than before. The connection of writing and history creates an interesting effect. The process of organization for the purpose of making our point clear to others forces historians to analyze their sources and data from a different perspective.

In closing, T. Mills Kelly states that he believes history will never disappear from school curriculum. Besides the scholarly value of understanding history, people are just too interested in events of the past. He believes the secret to keeping history alive and well given competition from STEM is to “turn students loose” while still maintaining baseline standards of tradition.

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Symbiosis

Collection of Objects vs. Ideas and Events

More often museums are asking for personal input on their experiences of an event or simply on their opinion of their exhibitions. Some outlets utilize a survey or request a phone number for an oral report. Others request that photographs and video be sent in. Sheila A. Brennan and T. Mills Kelly note that Dan Cohen and Roy Rosenzweig claimed “that collecting history through digital archives can be far cheaper, larger, more diverse, and more inclusive than traditional archives.” Participatory history shows a unique experience that is lost when given a more broad scope. An example of how participatory history gives such greater detail can be seen when studying the Lodz Ghetto in WWII German-occupied Poland. When reading a personal testimonial from the diary of Dawid Sierakowiak a historian can learn how little food the Jews of Lodz were given, how they got their information about the war, and where they worked to fuel the German war machine. In keeping with the theme of the Lodz Ghetto, Sheila A. Brennan notes in “Getting to the Stuff…” that the Children of the Lodz Ghetto¬†project of the Holocaust Museum has gone out to request information on potential survivors of this particular Ghetto. Since there were so few survivors and little information surrounding their fate, this type of crowd sourcing has worked to fill in the gaps in history.

Technology Enhancing Exhibitions

Dr. Meringolo notes in one of her blog posts how a tool called “ThingLink” can enhance an historical image. Tags can be placed, for instance, over an individual’s face. When a cursor scrolls over the tag, additional information information is shown. This makes a picture say far more than a thousand words. Additionally, Dr. Meringolo mentions “Map Warper”, a tool that overlays old maps with more recent ones. In a physical museum, if a tablet with these tools was presented alongside an object, a greater level of geographical and biographical context can be reached through interactivity.

Museums: a Marketplace For the Exchange of Ideas

What we begin to see with participatory history is the opening of a dialogue. The discussion is not just between the curator and the contributors. Contributors are being brought together and drawn into discussions about their common experiences, or the validity of other contributors information. This process not only improves quality, but builds a community that breathes new life into a project. Martha A. Sandweiss notes how metadata, especially when relating to photographs, is often “uneven” in quality. A solid community can improve metadata quality by citing a¬†photographer or ameliorating copyright information. A dedicated community seems to be the most essential part of undergoing a digital history project. Once accomplished, the work seems to be done for you.